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Oxfam: Climate Change Devastating Ethiopian Rural Communities

  • Michael Onyiego

A report released by Oxfam International details how climate change is increasing poverty, water scarcity and food insecurity among Ethiopia's pastoral communities.

The report, entitled The Rain Doesn't Come on Time Anymore, found that Ethiopia's rural communities are struggling to cope with increased variability in the country's weather patterns brought on by global climate change.

Ethiopia has always experienced extreme climate fluctuations, including relatively frequent periods of drought in the past. This variability has forced local communities to adapt to the climate and devise strategies to cope, but according the report, increasingly volatile shifts in the weather patterns have become difficult to predict, making it difficult for the communities to grow food and care for their herds.

Over the past four decades, Ethiopia's average annual temperature has increased by more than two degrees Fahrenheit, and the report indicates that certain regions within the country have recorded declines in annual rainfall. According to Oxfam's Horn of Africa Director, Abera Tola, this relatively small shift has major consequences.

"A small change in the environment very badly hurts the poor," said Tola. "Particularly the poorest of the poor here. If there is no rain, for example in April, that means we don't have any maize. Or if the rain is really delayed, say for three weeks, that again affects the whole livelihood issue," Tola added.

One of the report's key indicators was perceptions of climate change within the country. While measurements of Ethiopia's total rainfall have changed little over the past years, the study found that local farmers perceived a decline in rainfall, and said that the rains patterns were no longer predictable.

Outside factors also contributed to the change in perceptions. Though the total amount of rainfall in Ethiopia has not changed, issues such as population growth, deforestation and soil erosion were putting pressure on water supplies in rural communities, leading to the perception that the rains were failing.

And the report also found that rains during the traditionally high season, from February through May, have been declining in northeast, southeast and southwest of Ethiopia since 1997.

The report, which was released to mark Earth Day, called on the Ethiopian government to implement a national framework to help rural communities adapt to the effects of climate change. The government was urged to invest in climate change research and develop systems of early warning for rural communities.

Adaptation to the changing climate will prove crucial for Ethiopia. The agricultural sector provides a living for 80 percent of Ethiopia's population and produces nearly 50 percent of its gross domestic product, or GDP.